I took a deep breath to settle myself, jerking the cuff of my gloves up to cover the bare patch of skin at my wrist. My fingers were
numb through the fleece as I moved my next-to-largest spell pot to sit
beside a small chipped tombstone, being careful to not let the transfer
media spill. It was cold, and my breath steamed in the light of the cheap
white candle I had bought on sale last week.
Spilling a bit of wax, I stuck the taper to the top of the
grave marker. My stomach knotted as I fixed my attention on the growing
haze at the horizon, scarcely discernable from the surrounding city
lights. The moon would be up soon, being just past the last quarter and
waning. Not a good time to be summoning demons, but it would be coming
anyway if I didn’t call it. I’d rather meet Algaliarept on my own
I grimaced, glancing at the brightly lit church behind me
where Ivy and I lived. Ivy was running errands, not even aware I had made
a deal with a demon, much less that it was time to pay for its services.
I suppose I could be doing this inside where it was warm, in my beautiful
kitchen with my spelling supplies and all the modern comforts, but calling
demons in the middle of a graveyard had a perverse rightness to it, even
with the snow and cold.And I wanted to meet it here so Ivy wouldn’t have to spend
tomorrow cleaning blood off the ceiling.
Whether it would be demon blood or my own was a question I
hoped I wouldn’t have to answer. I wouldn’t allow myself to be pulled
into the ever-after to be Algaliarept’s familiar. I couldn’t. I had cut
it once and made it bleed. If it could bleed, it could die. God, help
me survive this. Help me find a way to make something good here.
The fabric of my coat rasped as I clutched my arms about
myself and used my boot to awkwardly scrape a circle of six inches of
crusty snow off the clay-red cement slab where I had seen a large circle
etched out. The room-sized rectangular block of stone was a substantial
marker as to where God’s grace stopped and chaos took over. The previous
clergy had laid it down over the adulterated spot of once hallowed ground,
either to be sure no one else was put to rest there accidentally or to fix
the elaborate, half-kneeling, battle-weary angel it encompassed into the
ground. The name on the massive tombstone had been chiseled off, leaving
only the dates. Whomever it was had died in 1852 at the age of
twenty-four. I hoped it wasn’t an omen.
Cementing someone into the ground to keep him or her from
rising again sometimes worked—and sometimes it didn’t—but in any case, the
area wasn’t sanctified anymore. And since it was surrounded by ground
that was still consecrated, it made a good spot to summon a demon. If
worse came to worst, I could always duck onto sanctified ground and be
safe until the sun rose and Algaliarept was pulled back into the
My fingers were shaking as I took from my coat pocket a white
silk pouch of salt that I had scraped out of my twenty-five-pound bag.
The amount was excessive, but I wanted a solid circle, and some of the
salt would be diluted as it melted the snow. I glanced at the sky to
estimate where north was, finding a mark on the etched circle right where
I thought it should be. That someone had used this circle to summon
demons before didn’t instill me with any confidence. It wasn’t illegal or
immoral to summon demons, just really, really stupid.
I made a slow clockwise path from north, my footprints
paralleling the outside track of the salt as I laid it down, enclosing the
angel monolith along with most of the blasphemed ground. The circle would
be a good fifteen feet across, a rather large enclosure which generally
took at least three witches to make and hold, but I was good enough to
channel that much ley line force alone. Which, now that I thought about
it, might be why the demon was so interested in snagging me as its newest
Tonight I’d find out if my carefully worded verbal contract
made three months ago would keep me alive and on the right side of the ley
lines. I had agreed to be Algaliarept’s familiar voluntarily if it
testified against Piscary, the catch being that I got to keep my soul.
The trial had officially ended two hours after sunset tonight,
sealing the demon’s end of the bargain and making my end enforceable.
That the undead vampire who controlled most of Cincinnati’s underworld had
been sentenced to five centuries for the murders of the city’s best ley
line witches hardly seemed important now. Especially when I was betting
his lawyers would get him out in a measly one.
Right now the question on everyone’s mind on both sides of the
law was whether Kisten, his former scion, would be able to hold everything
together until the undead vampire got out, because Ivy wasn’t going to do
it, scion or no. If I managed to get through this night alive and with my
soul intact, I’d start worrying about me a little less and my roommate a
little more, but first I had to settle up with the demon.
Shoulders so tight they hurt, I took the milky green tapers
from my coat pocket and placed them on the circle to represent the points
of a pentagram I wouldn’t be drawing. I lit them from the white candle I
used to make the transfer media. The tiny flames flickered, and I watched
for a moment to be sure they weren’t going to go out before I stuck the
white candle back on the broken grave marker outside the circle.
The hushed sound of a car pulled my attention to the high
walls dividing the graveyard from our neighbors. Steadying myself to tap
the nearby ley line, I tugged my knit cap down, stomped the snow from the
hem of my jeans, and made one last check that I had everything. But there
was nothing left to procrastinate with.
Another slow breath, and I touched my will to the tiny ley
line running through the church’s graveyard. My breath hissed in through
my nose and I stiffened, almost falling as my equilibrium shifted. The
ley line seemed to have picked up the winter chill, slicing through me
with an unusual coldness. Putting out a gloved hand, I steadied myself
against the candlelit tombstone while the incoming energy continued to
Once the strengths equilibrated, the extra incoming force
would flow back to the line. Until then I had to grit my teeth and bear
it as tingling sensations backwashed at the theoretical extremities in my
mind that mirrored my real fingers and toes. Each time it was worse.
Each time it was faster. Each time it was more of an assault.
Though it seemed like forever, the force balanced in a
heartbeat. My hands started to sweat and an uncomfortable sensation of
being both hot and cold took me, like being in a fever. I took off my
gloves and jammed them into a deep pocket. The charms on my bracelet
jingled, clear in the winter-silenced air. They wouldn’t help me. Not
even the cross.
I wanted to set my circle quickly. Somehow Algaliarept knew
when I tapped a line, and I had to summon it before it showed up on its
own and robbed me of the thread of power I might claim as its summoner.
The copper spell pot with the transfer media was cold when I picked it up
and did something no witch ever did and lived to tell of it; I stepped
forward, putting myself into the same circle I was going to call
Standing across from the person-sized monument cemented to the
ground, I exhaled. The monolith was covered in a black smut from bacteria
and city pollution, making it look like a fallen angel. That the figure
was bowed weeping over a sword held horizontally in his hands as an
offering only added to the creepy feeling. There was a bird’s nest wedged
into the fold of the wings as they curved around the body, and the face
didn’t look right. The arms, too, were too long to be human or
Inderlander. Even Jenks didn’t let his kids play around this one.
“Please let me be right,” I whispered to the statue as I
mentally moved the white rill of salt from this reality to that of the
ever-after. I staggered as most of the energy pooling in my center was
yanked out to force the shift. The media in the pot sloshed, and still
not having found my balance, I set it down in the snow before it spilled.
My eyes went to the green candles. They had turned eerily transparent,
having been moved to the ever-after with the salt. The flames, though,
existed in both worlds, adding their glow to the night.
The power from the line began to build again, the slow
increase as uncomfortable as the first quick influx of tapping a line, but
the ribbon of salt had been replaced with an equal amount of ever-after
reality arching high to close over my head. Nothing more substantial than
air could pass the shifting bands of reality, and because I set the
circle, only I could break it—providing I had made it properly to begin
“Algaiarept, I summon you,” I whispered, my heart pounding.
Most people used all sorts of trappings to summon and contain a demon, but
seeing as I already had an arrangement with it, simply saying its name and
willing its presence would pull it across the lines. Lucky me.
[ . . .]